Did tomorrow happen 14 billion years ago?
The hypothesis that the Universe came into being 13.77 billion years ago is widely enough accepted to be now treated as fact. Those early Ptolemaic astronomers glimpsed what Duco Schreuder refers to so eloquently as “the totality of existence" when they charted the orbits of celestial bodies. Fast forward 2000 years and the instruments aboard NASA’s latest journey of exploration, Perseverance, tell the same story. The Universe; everything that exists, everything that has existed, and everything that will exist, just popped into being from we know not where.
Following a similar trajectory the concept of time has become accepted as a factual part of our everyday lives; we seek to find more time. Not to loose time. To make-up time. Ford’s Model T cars were built on a production line that ran ‘like clockwork’. We schedule Zoom sessions and are encouraged to put in a full 8 hour day. We have woven time into the totality of our existence.
Mathematicians such as Copernicus and Newton, and the titan of 20th century physics, Einstein, wrestled with the seemingly intractable questions of our existence, the Universe and how we and it all fit together. Each standing on the shoulders of their predecessor polished, developed and embedded the role of time in their theories, their laws and our consciousness.
Time is a complex construct we appear to grasp quite easily. No doubt this is due to the ease with which it can be measured. We mark the sun-rise, the sun-set, divide the interval between the two into relative segments and manage our tasks accordingly. Time, in this way, connects our present day blogger on a Dubai beach to the hunter-gathers of Jebel Irhoud 250,000 years ago.
We understand time. Or we thought we did. Then Einstein working in 1905 published his theory on Special Relativity introducing two highly abstract concepts; infinity and spacetime. Intellectual constructs that challenge our imaginations to this day.
In an infinite universe there is no centre. For there are no outer edges. No end. No beginning. And yet today it is acknowledged both inside and outside academic circles that this infinite universe continues to expand; the distances between objects in space continues to increase.
In our world where everything is finite the infinite stretches our imagination to near breaking point. There is nothing, not even more infinity, beyond infinity. In our infinite universe there is no ‘beyond’.
And spacetime, necessary to make sense of the observed world, tied the location of an object, given in a 3-dimensional plot, to that object existing at a specific point in time. Furthermore Einstein’s theory requires a further notion; that of time being relative to the observer and observed. It was no longer a given that two people experienced time in the same way.
Time, it turns out, is far more complex than we thought. But what if time doesn’t exist?
Godel, who could often be seen walking, talking and enjoying an ice- cream with Einstein during their time together at Princeton, posited, in the 1940s, a universe without time. It was a thought experiment that sought to explore the possibility of time travel; something that Einstein ruled out. Time, according to Godel, was exclusively a mathematical quantity and rather than being a physical dimension was simply a measure of universal change. But Godel’s Universe has faded and we consider time as fundamental to our world experience as the air we breathe.
But is it? Can it be said an object exists in a time other than at the moment we observe it?
Across the great distances of the Universe we don’t ‘see’ an object. We observe the light reflected from that object and through analysis of that light we determine the origin of that light. And because the speed of light, theoretically, is a constant throughout the Universe we can fix the object’s position in relation to Earth. Einstein’s theory takes things further and fixes the position using space-time such that an object is said to exist at x, y, z and a point in time.
However in a Universe from which we remove ‘time’ that object, in our present, remains unchanged, it’s position unaltered, it’s reflected light undimmed. It may no longer exist in its present. But those two ‘presents’ are not points in time. They are points in space.
A universe where time doesn’t exist does not prevent our existence, nor does it preclude our experience of past, present & future. Except, rather than moving through time as we currently perceive our experience to be, we are moving through space. An extant physical world that came into being nearly 14 billion years ago.
Yesterday? Where is it? Where is tomorrow to be found? The shoes you’ll step into tomorrow are not a construct in time; they don’t dematerialise as the clock strikes midnight only to re-appear tomorrow. They’re a construct in space. As we dance away the midnight hours our shoes, one hopes, remain constant. It is the universe around us that changes. Yesterday was a physical space we inhabited. Tomorrow will be a new, different space. And in an infinite universe where all matter is already in existence, no matter or energy can be lost or created, those spaces we call our yesterdays must remain.
It is the same with tomorrow. It won’t materialise around us at the stroke of midnight. It exists in our present and we simply space-travel into it. When we consider our future it should not be a question of when but of where?
When Donald Byrd sang Stepping into Tomorrow he was perhaps more focused on the funk than on the physics of space-travel but he caught exactly the nature of our life’s journey. We don’t travel in time along a continuum experiencing life unfold day-to-day. In reality we travel through space experiencing events that have already happened. For in an infinite universe where all that can exist does exist all the events of our lives already exist. And only await our arrival for those events to become our experience.
We may make choices today that we believe will affect our experience of tomorrow. But the outcome of those choices has already happened. The consequence of our choices are extant in the only reference frame applicable in an infinite universe; the present. We don’t experience time passing rather our lived experience is that of travelling through space; from here to another ‘here’ but always we can only experience the present. And though we are free, we believe, to make choices those choices have already been programmed into the journey ahead.
We can choose to go left or right at a junction. But which ever way we choose the experience we move into pursuant to that choice unfolded at the beginning of the infinite Universe; in the moment of creation that defies imagination, all matter, all energy came into being. And so too all our todays, yesterdays and tomorrows. In that same moment nearly 14 billion years ago.
Accepting that the future is not time related but is spatially present does not change our observations of the Universe, the science that seeks to circumscribe it or our lived experiences. We are still free to dance until dawn. However knowing that we cannot affect tomorrow we are free to live life to the full today.